Sunak hits back: Zac Goldsmith quit govt after 'failing to apologise for undermining Privileges Committee', PM says

30 June 2023, 09:13 | Updated: 30 June 2023, 12:29

Lord Goldsmith accused the government of abandoning environmental commitments
Lord Goldsmith accused the government of abandoning environmental commitments. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Environment minister Lord Zac Goldsmith resigned from government after failing to apologise for undermining the Privileges Committee, Rishi Sunak has said.

The Boris Johnson ally Lord Zac Goldsmith resigned from his post on Friday morning, citing Rishi Sunak's show of "apathy towards the environment".

But Sunak has hit back, claiming Lord Goldsmith's comments about the Privileges Committee were “incompatible” with his position as a minister.

“You have decided to take a different course," Mr Sunak said.

It comes a day after Lord Goldsmith was accused of undermining the Privileges Committees investigation into Mr Johnson, which ruled the former prime minister deliberately misled Parliament over Partygate.

But at the centre of Lord Goldsith's resignation letter was Sunak's apparent "apathy" over climate change.

In his letter, Lord Goldsmith cited the government's decision to ditch an animal welfare bill, as well as the abandonment of the pledge to spend £11.6bn of UK aid on climate and environment.

In doing so, he personally criticised Mr Sunak for being "simply uninterested".

"The problem is not that the government is hostile to the environment, it is that you, our prime minister, are simply uninterested," he wrote.

"That signal, or lack of it, has trickled down through Whitehall and caused a kind of paralysis."

Lord Zac Goldsmith, Minister for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment
Lord Zac Goldsmith, former minister for overseas territories, Commonwealth, energy, climate and environment. Picture: Getty

Read More: Boris Johnson allies Dorries and Rees-Mogg accused of 'disturbing' campaign to 'undermine' Partygate probe

Starting his two-page resignation letter, Lord Goldsmith wrote: "The past four years have been an exhilarating experience for me, and I will forever be grateful that I was put in a position where I could do more for the environment than I thought possible in a lifetime.

"I'm proud that in recent years the UK has played a critical, indeed defining role - leading powerful coalitions of ambition and securing world-changing commitments over a very wide range of environmental issues."

"I will never understand how, with all the knowledge we now have about our fundamental reliance on the natural world and the speed with which we are destroying it, anyone can be uninterested," he went on.

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Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty

He concluded the letter: "It has been a privilege to be able to work with so many talented people in government, in particular my Private Office, and to have been able to make a difference to a cause I have been committed to for as long as I remember.

"But this government's apathy in the face of the greatest challenge we have faced makes continuing in my current role untenable.

"With great reluctance I am therefore stepping down as a Minister in order to focus my energy where it can be more useful."

Read More: Rishi Sunak to recruit 300,000 new doctors and nurses in biggest shake up in NHS history

Lord Goldsmith, alongside Nadine Dorries, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel, were heavily criticised for 'undermining procedures of the House of Commons" by criticising its inquiry into Mr Johnson.

The Privileges Committee described comments by senior MPs as an “unprecedented and co-ordinated” campaign to undermine the privileges committee.

Members of the committee faced attacks from those close to Boris Johnson in a bid to "prevent them" from doing their duty”, the report that found Johnson misled parliament said on Thursday.

"Those Members did not choose to engage through any proper process such as the submission of letters or evidence to our inquiry, but by attacking the members of the committee, in order to influence their judgment," the new report said.

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